Manga and skepticism

By Phil Plait | April 21, 2010 12:00 pm

My friend Sara Mayhew is pretty cool. I am reminded of this by her interview on Skepticality this week, and I’ve been meaning to write about her again anyway.

How do I know she’s so cool? I mean, besides this being my blog which makes me the final arbiter of cool? And also that she linked to me in a fabulous cartoon she drew?

She’s cool because she’s a skeptic and she draws manga and she’s a TED fellow. And she’s also pretty frakkin’ smart. And she spreads the joy of science and skepticism through her art. Behold:

That, me droogs, is a very cool ad. And how can you not love someone who asks, "Do we have the courage to let go of our beliefs, to grab on to what is true?"

If you want more of her, then check out the talk she gave at CfI LA in March, and you too will see why I like her so much.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Skepticism

Comments (34)

  1. Joe

    Awesome, very skilled artist! Me droogies, haha.

  2. timebinder

    “Do we have the courage to let go of our beliefs, to grab on to what is true?”
    I bet the answer to that question will depend on what turns out to be true.

  3. Nice to see someone using comic art to communicate science and skepticism :)
    I’ve been itching to do the same for ages! More power to comics (inclusive of manga :D )!!

  4. Quatguy

    Down boy, arn’t you married?

  5. That’s a big “Like” on the ol’ youtube-ometer. I’m lucky if my drawings are actually recognizable. :)

  6. Andy

    im wondering where ‘droog’ came from. it sounds like it may be the transliterated Russian word for ‘friend’.

  7. She was a GREAT guest. If you want to hear a couple other graphic novelists/comic book artists/writers who also use their work for Skepticism, go back in the Skepticality archives to our two part Comic episodes(s) with Chris Wisnia and Jim Ottaviani. They are episode(s) #35 and #36.

    Links to those:

    http://traffic.libsyn.com/skepticality/035_skepticality_part1.mp3

    http://traffic.libsyn.com/skepticality/036_skepticality_part2.mp3

  8. Utakata

    …oooh, my favorite topic!

    She’s really good and shoujo’esk to boot.

    And meanwhile someone should start a physics blog on Bleach. Bankai! :)

  9. BJN

    Aside from the magic, prophesy, defiance of the laws of physics, and manga style infantilized (or sexualized prepubescent) characters, there’s a consistent world view here.

  10. Just a heads-up, Sara has joined our team of Canadian Skeptic bloggers over at Skeptic North! Click here for her inaugural post!

  11. KurtMac

    I’m no big fan on manga stylistically, but her viewpoint is enough to get me to follow her blog and DeviantArt account.

    Also: Someone get that girl a proper telescope! At least one with a diagonal, fer Pete’s sake!

  12. Christina

    Beautiful. What a gifted artist and philosopher. Her words resonated with me – beautifully and simply.

  13. Crux Australis
  14. Utakata

    You mean something like South Park, #7 BJN?

  15. Jo

    @7: BJN, skepticism isn’t about disproving magic. It’s about truth and critical thinking. Inventing a universe in which the laws of physics as we know them don’t apply means that your characters can still be rational individuals, so long as you don’t start violating your own rules.

    The real offenders are those stories which are supposed to take place in the real world, but have magical elements stuffed in. Then the skeptical viewpoint invariably ends up being portrayed as the foolish one. I understand why it crops up so often in storytelling, but it never ceases to annoy the hell out of me. If magic existed, then there would be evidence of magic — and the skeptical viewpoint would embrace it in the same manner as every other physical law.

  16. jcm

    “Do we have the courage to let go of our beliefs, to grab on to what is true?”

    Love it.

  17. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Awesome. 8)

    My love for SF started with manga or anime as a very young kid – the first SF shows I ever recall watching & which I was a huge fan of were Battle of the Planets, Starblazers an animated version of Flash Gordon, Ulysses 3000? (I think it was called – SF retelling of Greek myths notably the Odyssey in cartoon form) & something SF with robotic lions that came together into some super-robot. Oh & Astroboy natch! ;-)

    So , yes, I ‘m a fan & was inspired by manga with a love of SF which also became a love of looking up at the stars and imagining what may be up there which led to an interest in astronomy so … YES manga *can* work for science. :-)

    Never mind the defying the laws of physics, the use of magic, the impossible physical characteristics of the characters etc .. As Albert Einstein apparently said :

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    @ Sara Mayhew : Well done, congratulations from me and keep it up. I love it! 8)

  18. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @2. timebinder Says:

    “Do we have the courage to let go of our beliefs, to grab on to what is true?”
    I bet the answer to that question will depend on what turns out to be true.”

    Yes.

    It is very easy to ask this question of other people using it against beliefs that you disgaree with and do NOT hold yourself.

    To apply this to the things you personally *DO* believe in or against popular cultural understandings is the real challenge & test of skeptical thinking, methinks.

    For example, how many self-professed “skeptics” (except when it comes to AGW! ;-) ) here would really be genuinely willing to give up a false belief in Anthropogenic Global Warming when the evidence contradicts it? (Or, yes, in fairness, a beleif in the other direction.)

    Many cherished conservative / Right-wing beliefs may be wrong.

    Many cherished Liberal / Left-wing beliefs may *also* be wrong.

    Despite what some here have said in the past, reality does NOT have any “liberal bias” and is just that. Reality – unbiased and, yes, sometimes Politically Incorrect. Reality is apolitical.

    Opposing unfashionable views that are seen as uncool and untrendy is easy.
    Opposing what is fashionable and widely believed is much harder.
    All veiws need to be challenged not just the easy or popular targets.

    A true skeptic should always look fairly at both sides of any issue and be willing to change her or his mind if the evidence demands it.

    A true skeptic should never be comfortable and think they know it all but always questioning and challenging – themselves as well as others – their supporters & heroes as well as those who disagree with them.

    A true skeptic should also have the ability to acknowledge uncertainties and admit we don’t know, that we don’t understand everything and that sometimes the available information is insufficient to draw firm conclusions.

    Rather than, for example, telling critics to shut up because the science is supposedly “settled” or beyond doubt.

    Science is NEVER settled and always open for refinement, for correction and for outright disproof.

    Which does raise the question – if evidence showed AGW was false or Obama was wrong about something would the Bad Astronomer and some others here truly have the courage and integrity to criticise and even give up these currently orthodox beleifs?

    Are they willing to slaughter the sacred cows when the science says they should? Really?

    Of course, NOT being skeptical and wanting to hold onto our cherished beliefs is part of human nature and understandable.

    Plus, yes, I’m also human and fallible and willing to admit I have my own beliefs and biases – indeed you can hardly be human and *not* have your own biases and preconceptions.

    But the question still remains.

  19. Utakata

    …um…yeah…I smell an attempt to derail this post.

  20. Moose

    Plutonium being from Pluto Says: A true skeptic should always look fairly at both sides of any issue and be willing to change her or his mind if the evidence demands it.

    There is only one side to any factual issue. There are never two.

  21. @BJN:

    Being in love with science doesn’t mean you can’t have an imagination. Magic and fantasy are amazing things as long as it’s realized they’re magic and fantasy. It’s when it’s brought into reality that there’s a problem. I am attempting to get published, I’m writing a fantasy story, it’s full of magic and dragons and impossible situations at times. My knowledge of science doesn’t stop me from writing fantasy, but it enriches what I know about my world that I invented.

    I hope the day never comes when I say ‘magic is for kids.’

    I will probably start to read this, thank you Phil, for letting me know about it.

  22. Darren Garrison

    #14:
    “Ulysses 3000? (I think it was called – SF retelling of Greek myths notably the Odyssey in cartoon form)”

    It was Ulysses 31. There are clips on Youtube, and the whole series can be found in a torrent (and as a DVD box set, but only in the UK and Australia, according to wikipedia.)

  23. Gary Ansorge

    Rather than saying reality has a liberal bias, we might more accurately say that Liberals have a reality bias.(and THAT liberal/conservative inclination seems rooted in the Limbic region of the brain)

    I just watched Michael Obamas “Take Your Kids to Work Day”.

    If journalists asked questions just half as pertinent as did those children, we’d all learn a lot more useful information.

    Gary 7

  24. “Also: Someone get that girl a proper telescope! At least one with a diagonal, fer Pete’s sake!”

    I needed to comment to redeem myself as an amateur astronomer: That was NOT my scope. The video was filmed in LA and they rounded up a telescope for filming–it didn’t even have an eyepiece on it. MY telescope lives in Kirkland Lake, Ontario; She is a Sky Watcher 102mm diameter Maksutov-Cassegrain of geekaliciousness!

  25. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 22. Darren Garrison Says:

    #14 [now # 17-ed]: “Ulysses 3000? (I think it was called – SF retelling of Greek myths notably the Odyssey in cartoon form)”

    It was Ulysses 31. There are clips on Youtube, and the whole series can be found in a torrent (and as a DVD box set, but only in the UK and Australia, according to wikipedia.)

    Thanks. :-)

    @ 19. Utakata Says:

    …um…yeah…I smell an attempt to derail this post.

    No, I’m just pointing out the logical implications and noting some key if rarely truly observed facets of skepticism.

    @ 20. Moose Says:

    Plutonium being from Pluto Says: “A true skeptic should always look fairly at both sides of any issue and be willing to change her or his mind if the evidence demands it.”

    There is only one side to any factual issue. There are never two.

    No. Not always. Indeed this is rarely the case.

    Quite often the facts in question are in dispute. Sometimes it is unclear whether something is “factual” or not and there are generally multiple different hypothesis’es that contend to be the correct explanation for a given phenomenon.

    “Facts” can change or be found not be quite as “factual” as we once thought.

    It was once considered “fact” that the Sun went around the Earth not vice-versa, that rocks did not fall from the sky, and so on. Now some people are equally sure AGW is “Fact” – but history and many skeptics argue that it ain’t necessarily so.

    @23. Gary Ansorge Says:

    Rather than saying reality has a liberal bias, we might more accurately say that Liberals have a reality bias

    Do they? Really? :roll:

    I wouldn’t be so sure of that if I were you.

    (and THAT liberal/conservative inclination seems rooted in the Limbic region of the brain)

    I am skeptical about that unsupported political claim of yours, Gary Ansorge! ;-)

  26. Daniel J. Andrews

    Now some people are equally sure AGW is “Fact”

    Actually AGW is a prediction made 150 years ago based on the properties (physics) of carbon dioxide, properties that were confirmed in numerous lab experiments, with global effects from rising CO2 subsequently seen over the past 30 years, as predicted over a hundred years earlier. Those are your facts.

    Show us how those facts are wrong, show us an alternative model that explains the observations even better-or even as well- (you’ll win a Nobel, btw), and climatologists and other scientists like Phil or myself will follow that evidence regardless of where it leads (e.g. geocentricity fell because the heliocentric model was simpler and explained the observations far far better). We are interested in how and why things work, we want answers, we have insatiable curiosity, we go into science because of this drive to know things, and most of us don’t really care about the politics of things or how these things may be inconvenient to the ideologies of some people (least we didn’t till the conners and the conned started attacking the scientists because they couldn’t find fault with the science).

    Every major professional science organization in all the developed countries around the world know CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that our CO2 contribution is responsible for most of the warming of the planet. That knowledge is built on an edifice of physics and many other sciences over at least 200 years. That knowledge transcends political/liberal/conservative/religious ideologies. That knowledge is global.

    It is only people like you, who have a poor understanding of science, who equate this knowledge to “current orthodox beliefs” because you project your own motives onto others, and because you have no idea of the mountain upon which that knowledge is based. You will have to rewrite physics to undermine AGW, or come up with a warming source that every agency in the world has overlooked, AND then explain why all that extra CO2 isn’t warming the planet in defiance of the properties of CO2 (which means you’ll have to demonstrate that our understanding of chemistry and our knowledge of the properties of molecules–e.g. H2O–is wrong too. You’ll also have to come up with alternate models of why the elements fall into the pattern they do on the periodic table, and you’ll…..etc).

    Indeed, someone may be able to do just that, but right now there is absolutely no evidence our knowledge base is that flawed. Until that evidence arises it is perverse to insist that our current knowledge is just a wrong orthodoxy, something that one day will be corrected like geocentricity, a set of beliefs that is as valid as someone’s opposite beliefs especially when that other set of beliefs consist of self-contradictory ideas, schoolboy howlers, intellectual bankruptcy, and outright fabrications. That is not skepticism and it sure as hell isn’t science.

    Sorry to feed the troll, but sometimes pseudo-skeptic vacuous wrong-headed crap wrapped in a Dunning-Kruger inside an blind ideologue (apologies to Churchill) annoys me especially when I’ve spent the work week contradicting google-scholars who think they’ve mastered in a few months-or hours-what has taken me decades and still counting.

  27. Stargazer

    #26

    Very well said.

  28. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ ^ 26. Daniel J. Andrews :

    I urge you to read Ian Plimer’s book* debunking AGW where among many other things – all of which are referenced and backed up by proper scientific studies he notes :

    “Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere operates like a curtain on a window. If you want to keep out light add a curtain. A second curtain makes little difference, a third curtain makes even less difference and a forth curtain is totally ineffectual. Co2 operates the same way. Once there is about 400 ppmv CO2 in the atmosphere, the doubling or tripling of the CO2 content has little effect on atmospheric temperature because CO2 has adsorbed all the infra-red energy it can adsorb.”
    - Page 374, Heaven & Earth 2009.

    Professor Plimer notes too that the greatest impact Co2 has is in the first 100 ppmv after which adding more Co2 quickly has less and less effect. That seems to explain why the runaway Greenhouse effect has never eventuated even when carbon dioxide levels were many times higher than they are today & why AGW is bunk.

    Look at the graphs of Co2 levels and temperatures throughout the Earth’s history – they just do NOT co-relate. See http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/GlobWarmTest/A6c.html & scroll down for more incl. graph & figures.

    “come up with a warming source that every agency in the world has overlooked, “

    Or perhaps misunderstood or poorly understood such as natural oscillation around a set mean but with upswings and downswings. We go through warmer decades and cooler decades even in the one century – this is observed fact not theory. The period 1940-1970 was cool, the period 1980-2010 has been warm. So is it all Humanity’s fault? Or is just the climate being the climate? Remember Co2 levels were rising in the years 1940 to 1970 too.

    right now there is absolutely no evidence our knowledge base is that flawed.

    Yes there is – if you actually look at what the skeptics are saying instead of dismissing them as “trolls” who don’t understand science. Harrison Schmitt the only scientist and second last man on the Moon is an AGW skeptic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Schmitt#Post-NASA_career) – does he have no clue? Really? What about Burt Rutan who designed Spaceship One( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burt_Rutan#Climate_change ) – does he know nothing about science? Or well-known outspoken Skeptic and career geologist Ian Plimer is he ignorant and stupid? And to think you call me a “troll” :roll:

    Sadly, like so many other AGW zealots supporting the Warmist paradigm all you, Daniel J. Andrews, can seem to do is cast insults and aspersions at those who dare to disagree with you. If I’m wrong, kindly explain why you think so rationally & without name-calling.

    “..it is perverse to insist that our current knowledge is just a wrong orthodoxy, something that one day will be corrected …”

    So … what do we really know about the climate as opposed to claim and guess?

    We know it is a highly complex area with a large number of variables which interact in complex and subtle ways which is very hard if not outright impossible to predict accurately. We know there is stacks about our climate that we don’t understand or understand only poorly &, yes, the science here is very far from being settled with much that is hotly disputed.

    Which makes climatology an interesing field of study but NOT one to base political or economic decisions upon because, frankly, we should *know* that we *don’t* know.

    Except that we do know a few things -

    1. Our Sun has a huge influence on the climate as do Earth’s orbital cycles and atmospheric current and wind patterns such as the Jetstream, Gulfstream, El Nino-La Nina etc ..

    2. Temperatures and conditions over past aeons have varied considerably from Ice Age to Hothouse conditions – the geological and palaeontological records show that warmer conditons are generally best for life generally and humans specifically. These records also show that we are in an interglacial period inside a still longer scale Ice Age span because of the locations of the continents and that conditions will eventually cool down again naturally to a harsher icier state. During interglacials glaciers naturally retreat – this has been ongoing since the end of the Little Ice age period in 1850 & is something to feel happy – not alarmed – about!

    3. Those same record as indicate (on a graph I’ve linked here above) that carbon dioxide levels have been many times higher in the past without leading to catastrophe and that these C02 levels are now actually lower than usual for our planetary history. They also show that temperatures have been hotter with trees and life existing in areas they cannot now (eg. Antartica) and that life evolves & adapts to suit the conditions.

    But then, Daniel J. Andrews you claim you been studying this area for years so why don’t you know these unalarming facts already? Have you been studying the reality or a green myth? Have you studied different perspectives on climate or only the currently popular (if losing popularity very fast!) Politically Correct paradigm? :-)

    Just asking. Oh & please notice that I’m not calling you a “troll” just because your opinion doesn’t match mine on this one issue.

    —–

    * AGW zealots who dislike what Plimer has written have slammed his book with hostile reviews and refused to accept its conclusions while attacking Plimer personally for exposing their nudity. What a surprise. :roll:

    Nobody needs to need to say this (again) & its hardly surprising or any sort of revelation. Read the book and judge for yourselves people!

  29. Utakata

    You know…this is like walking into a wonderful anime convention, where everyone is in cosplay of your favorite shows. Squee!! And to the left there is showcase one of your favorite manga artist I’ve always wanted to see. And so many questions I want to ask…and perhaps get a signature to sign from her. Squee!! But just as I approach her table, to my utter horror…some Glenn Beck type gets up on top of a stool with a big honking bull horn and starts insipidly barking about the evils of those who think anthropogenic global warming is a serious issue, accusing those who disagree as “liberal” thought crinimals and so on…

    …you know, my only time of getting to know the artist has become really soured if not embarrassed for myself, her and everyone else at the convention…but the idiot with the bull horn who I wish would just go away. :(

    *Hands Plutonium being from Pluto, a copy of Hayao Miyazaki’s, Princess Mononoke*

    Now take this home and enjoy it. You may learn a few things. And don’t come back here until you do. kk? Thankx!

  30. Muzz

    Obligatory link to the litany of Plimer’s errors.

    By all means read the book, and the critiques. If you don’t feel like reading them remember that the only counter Pluto has to these lengthy, egregious errors and misrepresentations which undermine the whole argument of the book, is that the people who collated them must be embittered AGW zealots who just hate the man. Unlike, of course, good hearted skeptics such as himself who only deal in fact and don’t smear or dismiss people’s arguments out of hand. *cough*

    And apologies for further befouling Ms Mayhew’s thread (before Utakata strangles me).

  31. Jeff

    She’s correct, the young people need to develop critical thinking skills. If not, the future society will collapse in terms of technology.

    The worst thing the young generation can do is “leave it to the experts”, hey, you guys have to BE the experts now, and critical thinking is one big step.

    And even with that, it’s going to be an uphill battle to maintain a technical civilization, because you have the energy problem, how much is there? and the environmental catastrophe problems.

  32. Cochise

    I love that quote. I would like to know what the rest was about? I’m deaf and I can’t find a subtitled version or transcript anywhere.

  33. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 29. Utakata Says:

    .. But just as I approach her table, to my utter horror…some Glenn Beck type gets up on top of a stool with a big honking bull horn and starts insipidly barking about the evils of those who think anthropogenic global warming is a serious issue, ..

    Sorry you feel that way. I don’t mean to spoil things for you at all. But …

    1. I was responding to someone elses attack on me (Daniel J. Andrews #26 to be precise) & earlier began by just pointed out the implications of Sara Mayhew’s statement : “Do we have the courage to let go of our beliefs, to grab on to what is true?” I do think that applies to climate change theories such as AGW as much as everything else. If not, why not?

    2. The comments section of the blog is hardly a “bull horn.” If you don’t like someones views you can skim over or entirely skip their post – no-one is forcing you to read and respond to me ore anyone else. I’m not stopping you from expressing yourself – just putting in my perspective too.

    3. Glenn Beck? Never seen or heard him. Or Rush Limbaugh or the other standard Left wing hate figures. Don’t get them over here in Oz. (I don’t have pay-TV.) I know who they are, very vaguely, right-wing talk show hosts and prominent speakers for the Republican movement. That’s all. So there’s no connection there besides a shared skepticiasm for the AGW scare & its Alarmist ideologues.

  34. Messier Tidy Upper

    @6. Andy Says:

    I’m wondering where ‘droog’ came from. it sounds like it may be the transliterated Russian word for ‘friend’.

    Yep. Russian language slang word from the SF-punk novel originally by Anthony Burgess & later the eponymous movie made by Kubrick A Clockwork Orange.

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Clockwork_Orange

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